Seahawks focusing on Panthers' Pro Bowl tight end, are better prepared to slow him

Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and his Atlanta Falcons handed the Panthers their only loss of the year three weeks ago in part because they limited Greg Olsen to "just" four catches for 40 yards. Can the Seahawks match this effectiveness on Sunday?

Greg Olsen torched the Seahawks for 11 catches for 131 yards and the game-winning touchdown at CenturyLink in Week Five, so it is certainly understandable why Pete Carroll was so complimentary this week when asked about the Panthers two-time Pro Bowl tight end.

"He [Olsen) is a magnificent target," Carroll began. "He can do everything. They know it. They know they have a great player. They use him all over the field, crucial situations. Down the field, third down situations as well. He can do everything. He's a great player."

Just how great is he, coach?

"He's as good as the best guys that play the game," Carroll said. "He's as good as New England, he's as good as San Diego, those guys that really rely on their tight ends. He's an incredible player."

Of course, Carroll is right, Olsen has become is very much in the conversation along with Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates as the league's best tight end. In his ninth season, he has emerged as the unquestioned feature target in the NFL's top scoring offense, with his 77 catches this season nearly matching the combined 83 grabs from Carolina's next two pass-catchers, starting receivers Ted Ginn Jr. (44 catches) and Jerricho Cotchery (39).

Not surprisingly, Olsen's own coach, Ron Rivera, looked to downplay his star's role in the Panthers offense, highlighting some of Carolina's "other" weapons in the passing game.

"I think a lot of it has been some of the guys that have grown and emerged around him," Rivera said when asked why Olsen had become so effective in 2015. 

"I think Teddy Ginn's ability to blow the top off the coverages, I think [Jerricho] Cotchery's ability to find the hole, Philly's [Brown] ability to find the holes to sit down in. I think because those guys started developing and growing into the positions, and add Devin Funchess to the mix, and you've got guys that have chances to make catches. And I think also Cam's [Newton] ability to spread the ball a little bit. By being able to throw the ball to the other receivers, teams don't sit there and just focus in on one guy, and I think that's been the one thing. Because if you go to our box scores, you'll see where Cam's hit five, six, seven, eight, nine different receivers sometimes. So by spreading the ball, I think that really helped Greg out."

At 6-5, 253 pounds, Olsen is a mismatch for most defenses. He doesn't possess elite speed but is an athletic and savvy route-runner with body control, reliable hands and a football I.Q. respected by Newton and Carolina's coaches, alike. 

He's also starring in a system perfectly suited to his skills. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula's run-heavy approach sucks up the linebackers and defensive backs towards the line of scrimmage and Newton has drastically improved his accuracy this season, tossing nearly twice as many touchdowns in 2015 (35) as he did a year ago (18) while dropping from 12 to a career-low 10 interceptions this year.

Fortunately for the Seahawks, the defense appears much better prepared to handle to Olsen and the Panthers this time around.

With Bobby Wagner out with a strained pectoral in Week Five, normal starting outside linebacker K.J. Wright was moved inside. That left Kevin Pierre-Louis outside, often drawing Olsen in coverage.

With all due respect to the popular KPL, he's more wrong than Wright, who excels in this area demonstrating terrific instincts of his own, as well as closing speed and the combination of length and strength as a tackler.

With Wagner healthy, Wright back at his customary position and the secondary flourishing lately, the Seahawks could have a surprise for Olsen, Newton and the Panthers in Sunday's rematch.

"We'd like to take a lot out of that if we could, "Carroll said when asked about Olsen's past against Seattle. "We'll try."


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